Category:Wine advice

Why blind tasting is the most important thing in the world

The Wine Curmudgeon writes a lot about blind tasting and why it matters. Nothing demonstrates this more than what happened when I judged The Dallas Morning News competition earlier this month, where I was able to put my foot firmly in my mouth.

I can't tell you the wine involved here; the results are embargoed until April 15. But I can tell you that my panel gave a gold medal to an absolutely lovely pinot gris. It was easily one of the best wines we tasted over two days and 200 entries — fresh, crisp and balanced. It tasted much more expensive than it actually is.

So imagine my surprise when I found out what the wine was. That's because I had tasted this wine last fall, as a winery sample, and I was not impressed. I wrote in my notes (on CellarTracker, the unofficial wine inventory software of the Wine Curmudgeon): "It's OK, though it would offer more value at a lower price. Bright fruit and some acid, but it tastes almost manipulated to get it to a certain flavor profile."

That's why blind tasting is essential. I don't know that I had made up my mind before I tasted the sample that I wasn't going to like it, but I do remember looking for flaws more intensely than usual. Maybe I was more cranky than normal, maybe I was suspicious of the brand. Who knows? But the price I paid was to dismiss a quality wine, and that's my loss. Life is too short, and there isn't enough good wine, to throw one away just because you're having a bad tasting day.

The photo is from Jeremy Doorten of Alberta, Saskatchewan, via stock.xchng, using a Creative Commons
license

Holiday wines 2009

In one respect, picking wines for the holiday season, including Christmas, is a bit trickier than picking wines for Thanksgiving. The latter is a formal, sit-down dinner; the holiday season is one long stretch of running around, people coming over, hurried evening meals, and a glass of wine or two in between wrapping presents.

To that end, the Wine Curmudgeon’s suggestions aren’t so much about specific labels, but some general guidelines. For individual wines, check out my wines of the week or the holiday wine posts. My New Year’s sparkling wine post will be up on Dec. 28.

? Save the expensive wine for a formal occasion, like Christmas dinner, or to give as a gift. What’s the point of opening that $70 bottle of red Bordeaux on the off chance someone will drop over after dinner?

? Think lighter reds, like malbec and U.S.-style Rhone blends (the Peirano Red Shorts Red is a good example), and lighter whites like dry riesling and viognier. The more I think about it (and as much as I love sauvignon blanc), riesling and viognier are much better suited to a crowd than the white wines we normally serve.

? Don’t be afraid to open a bottle of wine — or two or three — when people come over. One of the best parts of having people over, at least at my house, is tasting different wines and talking about them. (Yes, the Wine Curmudgeon knows he is a bit odd). You’ll be surprised at the differences most people can taste in a $10 wine.

? If you’re giving wine as a gift, give them what they like, and not what you think they should like. And if someone gives you wine as a gift, say thank you and appreciate the effort they made to give it to you.

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Thanksgiving wine 2009

Thanksgiving is about friends and family, and not about wine pairings. Wine writers traditionally agonize over Thanksgiving, which I've never understood. They get so hung up on food pairings and recommending expensive pinot noir that they miss the point of the holiday — which is that we should enjoy our friends and family and not worry about wine. Who cares if cabernet sauvignon doesn't go with turkey, or that chardonnay and cranberry sauce isn't proper? Thanksgiving is about sharing and having fun, and the wine that you drink should be part of that. It's not about scores and oaky and toasty.

But that may be changing, and it's a welcome sign. Jon Bonne', the highly-esteemed and influential wine writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, said his Thanksgiving wine column: "My advice, then? Don't worry. Drink what you like. No one's going to put you in wine jail. It's going to be OK."

That's as revelatory as it is welcome, given that most big-time wine writers are usually the worst agonizers. That Bonne' says it's OK to forgo the perfect pinot noir means the wine world is changing, and changing for the better. Because, if Aunt Dorothy likes white zinfandel, who are you to tell her she can't drink it at Thanksgiving?

Whatever you do, though, think variety ? some white, some red, some bubbly. The Wine Police, as Bonne noted, will not arrest you for trying to make
your guests happy. After the jump, some thoughts and wines to start with:

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